‘Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible’ – Audrey Hepburn
I’m not a fan of exercise. Maybe I’m inherently lazy or maybe it’s because I don’t really know what to do, but exercising does not rate highly in a list of things I enjoy or as part of my day to day life. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s impossible but you won’t find me jogging around the streets, going for a swim or a game of tennis, or joining a boxing class! Don’t get me wrong, I love my weekly dance class and I’m often to be found doing the tiny tweaks we’ve talked about before such as squats whilst waiting for the kettle to boil or marching around the kitchen to get my steps up. I also love my Power Plate which I stand on for 10 minutes a day doing nothing whilst it works on my balance, bone strength and whittling away my wobbly bits! What’s not to love!
So, fast but effective exercise is something I am definitely interested in and bite sized chunks of exercise, sometimes called exercise snacking, seem to be having a moment. It is associated with improved mood and overall health as well as being something we are more likely to stick with as it doesn’t seem so much of a chore and we have no excuse whatsoever to put it off. Research has even shown that small chunks of exercise throughout the day has the same effect as one longer session. Activities which get our heart rate up will have the most effect but any form of movement is better than nothing, so we can do whatever works for us, remembering that we might have more energy one day and less on another so we should adapt rather than miss doing it completely!
So what can we do? Well here are a few examples of exercise snacking, some that will really get our heart rate up and some that simply get us up out of our chair!
One suggestion from the experts is to lift the heaviest weight you can for 3-5 repetitions with a very slow lowering action which really works your biceps. A study by Niigata University in Japan found that doing bicep curls at maximum effort for just 3 seconds increased muscle strength by around 10%! Alternatively, we can try weights we find more comfortable and use them for 5-10 minutes. I keep mine in the lounge and use them whilst I’m watching TV!
Lowering ourselves onto a chair very slowly not only increases our leg strength and works our core but also improves our balance. From a standing position, make sure you can feel the chair behind your legs and check over both shoulders that you are central so there is no chance of falling off the chair! Then stick your bum out, raise your chest and aim your bottom at the back of the chair, going down as slowly as you can manage. Once seated, we can reverse by ‘walking’ ourselves forward until our thighs are halfway over the front of the chair then raising our chest, putting our weight into our feet and pushing up. You can rest hands on thighs or make it harder by putting hands on the opposite shoulder across your chest. The important thing is to keep the chest up so we are going upwards and not aiming directly at the floor! This is such a simple thing to do but if we can do it every time we get up or sit down, we will really be boosting leg strength and balance. This one is part of the seated dance class I go to and is such a simple but effective exercise.
Walking up and down a flight of stairs is great for heart health, muscle building and burning calories (much better than simply walking) and also improves bone density, but check with a doctor if you suffer with knee pain as it can put a lot of stress on our knees. A really interesting study by researchers in Australia, asked 30 women who were all over the age of 60 and all overweight to try stair walking for 12 weeks. Half were asked to take a lift to the 6th floor and then walk down and the other half did the opposite, climbing the stairs and coming down in the lift. They started doing this twice a week and increased as they got fitter. As you’d expect, the second group who walked up the stairs had the most challenging workout, but the group who walked down the stairs lost the most weight, had the biggest improvements in balance and bone strength, and saw the biggest improvements in blood pressure, blood fats and blood sugar levels.
For those of us who sit at a desk for much of the day, exercise snacking is a great way to get moving. Taking short breaks to march on the spot, do some stretches, balance on one leg or go and walk up and down a flight of stairs are all good options! Setting an alarm and getting up every hour is good for all sorts of reasons, not just physical health but mentally taking a break too. I do this when I am in the office and it really helps keep me focused on the task in hand. Apparently Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, spends one minute every hour when writing doing push ups and sit-ups and he’s not alone.
Then of course there are the tiny tweaks we’ve talked about before, squats or lunges whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, a quick one minute jog on the spot, balancing on one leg, anything that gets us up and moving is good! So if we’ve used the excuse that we don’t have time to exercise, or the gym is too expensive, or we just aren’t fit enough to even start, there’s no reason not to try exercise snacking. Experts say that we should be aiming to do 150 minutes of exercise which raises our heart rate each week but there is no evidence to say that this needs to be in big chunks – one minute of star jumps would certainly get my heart pumping! The beauty is that we can do these bite sized bits of exercise anywhere, anytime (and we don’t need a shower afterwards) so they really can be fitted in, so what are we waiting for? Let’s snack!
Until next time xx